Friday, May 25, 2012


I first had koshari--a popular Egyptian street food--while visiting my brother when he was studying abroad in Cairo.  This traditionally-vegetarian dish combines a bunch of staple foods into one, resulting in a satisfying, though starchy, meal. 

Koshari: So many components, so few vegetables.

  • 1 - 14.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1.5 cups white rice (plus water to cover)
  • 1.5 cups lentils (plus water to cook)
  • 1 pinch salt, or to taste
  • 1 pinch pepper, or to taste 
  • 8 ounces ditalini pasta (plus water to cook)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 - 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 small package or can French fried onions
First, marinate the chickpeas.  Combine the chickpeas, vinegar, and spices in a container with a tight-fitting lid.  Store the container in the refrigerator while preparing the rest of the dish, shaking occasionally to stir up the chickpeas.  
Next, in a small bowl, combine the rice with enough cold water to cover and allow to soak.  After 20 minutes, carefully drain the rice.   
Meanwhile, add the lentils to a medium saucepan and add enough water to more than cover the lentils.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring the lentils to a boil and cook until tender (about 30 minutes, depending on the type of lentils you use).  If all of the water is absorbed before they are finished cooking, add a bit more water. 

As the lentils cook, prepare the pasta according to package instructions.  When the pasta is done cooking, drain and set aside. 
As all of these ingredients cook, prepare the tomato sauce.  Heat the olive oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil becomes hot, stir in the onion and sautè for about 5 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer until the rest of the dish is ready. 

Once the rice has soaked for 20 minutes, you can begin to cook the rice.  Melt the vegan butter in a medium saucepan over high heat.  Add the rice to the pot and fry, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes.  (Don't be too concerned if the rice starts to stick--the vegetable broth will deglaze the pan).  Add the vegetable broth while stirring, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed (about 18 minutes).

Finally, when all of these components are ready, mix the rice and lentils together.  To serve, spread the pasta over the rice and lentil mixture and top with chickpeas, tomato sauce, and the French-fried onions.
Yields 8 servings.

This is a really tasty dish with a rich yet earthy flavor.  Ours came out a bit mushy (I think we overcooked the rice by a few minutes), but the chickpeas and French-friend onions add some nice textural variation.  Overall, it was a pretty heavy dish.  
This dish makes use of numerous easy to find staple foods.  It would be a great dish to make in the winter when high-quality fresh ingredients are scarce.
 Ease of Preparation:       
There are many pieces to the koshari puzzle, as you can see.  However, most of the ingredients can cook at the same time; or, you could even make the lentils, rice, and pasta a day in advance.  Once all of the components are cooked, the assembly is quite easy. 
Non-vegan friendliness:      
This dish is extremely substantive.  I wouldn't serve this as a one-pot meal, however, as it's quite blatantly missing vegetables of any kind. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cool Caribbean Curry with Plantains

Last night was a night of firsts for the ladies and gentleman of this apartment: we used both plantains and black-eyed peas for the first time.  I'm just as surprised as you are that we hadn't cooked up some black-eyed peas before now (seriously, though, I think my soft spot for black-eyed peas can only be attributed to the fact that they remind me of black-eyed Susans).  Our adventure was successful, as you can see:

Warning: This is Not Your Average Curry.
Cool Caribbean Curry with Plantains
  • 3 very ripe plantains, peeled, split lengthwise and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 large red pepper, diced finely
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 4.5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/8 cups lite coconut milk
  • 1 1/8 cups water
  • 2 - 15 ounce cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1.5 teaspoons honey
  • 1.5 teaspoons lime juice
  • 3 cups brown rice, prepared according to package instructions
First, steam the plantains.  Insert a steamer basket or metal sieve into a medium-sized saucepan and add an inch or two of water (the water should be below the bottom of the steamer basket/seive).  Bring the water to a boil and place the plantains in the steamer basket/seive.  Cover the pot and steam for about 10 minutes or until the plantains look bright yellow and plump.  Drain the water, re-cover the plantains to keep them warm, and set aside. 

Meanwhile, prepare the curry.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shallot and peppers and sauté for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic, ginger, and bay leaves and continue cooking for another two minutes.  Next, add a splash of water and stir in the curry powder, cinnamon, and thyme.  Mix for 30 seconds before adding the salt, coconut milk, water, and black-eyed peas.  Cover and cook for 5 more minutes.  Finally, add the honey and lime juice and any extra salt or seasoning, to taste.  Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  
To serve, spoon the curry over a bed of brown rice and top with plantains.  Yields 6 servings.

This dish is both visually appealing and pleasing to the palate.  The colors are as bright as the flavors.  The creamy coconut milk tempers the curry powder and jalapeno, so the dish is really more mild than spicy.  And I really enjoy the meatiness of the plantains--they're really nice to bite into, which is a sensation that is often missing in many vegan recipes. 
Despite the fact that Uganda was the top producer of plantains in 2009 (according to Wikipedia) and I live in the U.S., we had no trouble finding them at the grocery store--along with all of the other ingredients.  Isn't it funny how that works?
 Ease of Preparation:     
This dish depends pretty heavily on having the kitchen tools needed to steam the plantains (or you can always do this).  That said, the actual cooking process is pretty simple.    
Non-vegan friendliness:      
We all enjoyed this dish.  Simon says that the hearty plantains are a welcome addition to the meal. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Spinach Vermicelli with Scallions and Seitan

Simon's mom was nice enough to bring us spinach vermicelli back from her trip to Canada.  (It came from an expansive Asian specialty grocery store, I am told.)  I hadn't ever made vermicelli before--or any other green-colored noodle, for that matter--so it was fun to give it a try. 

The spinach vermicelli started out light green, but unfortunately lost its color during cooking.

Spinach Vermicelli with Scallions and Seitan
  • 1 - 250g (8.8 ounce) package dried spinach-flavored rice vermicelli
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 or 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 - 8 ounce packages seitan (or homemade seitan), cut into small pieces
  • 1 small piece ginger, minced
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
First, cook the vermicelli according to package instructions (I cooked the noodles for 2.5 minutes) and drain.  Set aside.
Next, prepare the sauce.  In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, water, sugar, and pepper.  Set aside. 

Then, heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions, seitan, and ginger and sauté, stirring every 2 minutes, until the seitan and onions begin to brown.  Add half of the sauce and then add the vermicelli and scallions (reserving a few scallions for garnish).  Add the rest of the sauce, stir the noodles until everything is combined and heated through.
Garnish with scallions and serve hot.  Serves 4-6 people. 

The rice vermicelli has a pretty unique texture.  It is both light and very thin, which Rachel enjoyed as a nice change from wheat pasta; for some context, Simon compared it to spaghetti squash.  The spinach flavor was pretty undetectable and the green color was overpowered by the brown sauce, but the dish as a whole had a pleasantly fragrant and gingery flavor.      
I'm not sure how easy it is to find rice vermicelli noodles at a standard American grocery store, given that these came from a Canadian specialty store.  Seitan can be difficult to find at big box grocery stores, as well.  To work around this, you can either stock up on vital wheat gluten and make your own, or stock up on pre-made seitan and freeze it.
 Ease of Preparation:     
This dish was pretty quick--especially compared to a dish that uses wheat noodles, which require longer to cook.  There's not much chopping involved here, either.   
Non-vegan friendliness:      
This makes a great summertime Asian dish and would make a great meal served with some steamed vegetables on the side.  The best part about it is that neither the sauce nor the noodles are heavy, like so many saucy noodle dishes can be. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Coconut Curried Fried Rice with Tofu

So much friendship; so much food!  Rachel and I had a friend over for dinner on Monday night.  We made a recipe which was passed along to me by another friend who has been living in China for the past year.  We enhanced the original recipe with a few little changes, and the results were quite favorable.

This dish pairs quite well with white wine, by the way.

Coconut Curried Fried Rice with Tofu

Coconut Rice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups lite coconut milk (or enough water + coconut milk to equal 2.5 cups liquid)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cups brown minute-rice
Prepare the rice first (or in advance).  Combine all ingredients except rice in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir in the rice and return to a boil.  Then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Then remove from heat, stir, and let the rice stand 5 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed.  (Or, if you are using regular rice, prepare according to package instructions.)  Remove the cinnamon stick and set aside (or refrigerate until ready to use).

Curried Fried Rice with Tofu
  • 1 head bok choy, chopped, keeping the white and green bits separate
  • 2 packages extra-firm tofu, pressed and cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup olive or peanut oil
  • 1 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 - inch chunk of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1.5 cups frozen peas
  • 1 - 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
First, prepare the bok choy.  I chose to steam the bok choy to give it a head start on cooking before adding it to the fried rice.  If you don't have a vegetable steamer, put about 3/4" water in the bottom of a saucepan and bring it to a boil.  Add the white bits of bok choy, cover, and steam for 2 minutes before adding the green leaves and cooking, covered, for another 2 minutes.  Once the bok choy is pretty tender, drain and set aside.

Next, prepare the tofu.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, carefully add the tofu and allow to rest for a few minutes before turning it.  Continue cooking and turning until the tofu has browned on most sides.  Set aside.  

At this point, it's time to begin the fried rice.  Heat the garlic, ginger, and carrot over medium-high heat using the skillet in which you cooked the tofu (there should be a little oil left in the bottom--if there isn't, add a little more). Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then add the curry powder and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.  Add the rice, peas, tofu, tomatoes, and bok choy and cook until heated through.  Finally, stir in the soy sauce and lime juice. 

Serves 6-8 people. 

This is a beautifully colorful dish with a creamy texture and mild flavor.  I would have preferred if it were a bit spicier (I might add 1 minced jalapeno the next time I make this); Simon agrees that it was a bit bland.  Even though the flavor isn't too powerful, the dish definitely packs in a bunch of tasty vegetables and protein.  We all agreed that the carrots add a nice crunch to the dish, and we could have added raisins, too.
This is a very flexible dish.  Any of the vegetables could be swapped in our out depending on preferences, availability, and price.  For the record, bok choy was available at our regular grocery store, so it's probably available at yours too. 
 Ease of Preparation:      
It took a while to prepare this dish.  To cut down on prep time, you could prepare the rice and bok choy a day in advance (Maybe you don't even need to pre-cook the bok choy, but I didn't want to risk crunchiness, given our guest!).  Or, you might try using leftover rice.
Non-vegan friendliness:     
Simon, our very own carrot deflator, didn't think this dish was substantial enough to stand on its own.  That said, the three women agreed on Monday evening that it was a good meal.  With or without the tofu, this could also be a nice side dish. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Southwest-Style Salad with a Sweet and Smoky Chipotle Vinaigrette

Our recreation of Chipotle over the weekend gave me the idea of recreating a dish from another fast-casual restaurant: Chop't.  The result: Southwest-Style Salad with a Sweet and Smoky Chipotle Vinaigrette.

Salad, undressed.

Southwest-Style Salad with a Sweet and Smoky Chipotle Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 small bag frozen corn
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1/2 bag baby spinach
  • 2 avocados, peeled and diced
  • 2 or 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 - 6 ounce container French fried onions
Chipotle Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 cup honey*
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 - 7 ounce can chiles chipotles adobados (AKA chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)

First, toast the corn for the salad.  Pour to corn into a skillet and heat over high heat.  Stir the corn occasionally until it becomes toasty golden brown. 

Next, prepare the salad.  Toss together all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. 

Finally, prepare the salad dressing.  In a food processor or blender, combine the honey, vinegar, mustard, and chiles on high speed until smooth. 

Top the salad with dressing and enjoy.  Serves 6-8 people.

I'm really pleased with how this salad came out.  It's full of tasty ingredients that are filling, yet light.  Rachel liked the salad "a lot" and especially enjoyed the "interesting interplay of textures."  The dressing was also a hit: the honey and peppers create a uniquely rich, smoky flavor that's both spicy and sweet.  Simon thought "it tasted like salad" and his favorite part was the French fried onions.
This is definitely a summertime dish. 
 Ease of Preparation:     
This salad is really quick and easy to make.  It takes about 15 minutes! 
Non-vegan friendliness:    
I think this is an incredible salad.  Simon and Rachel both added shredded cheese on top.  Simon wasn't convinced that it's an adequate main dish, but Rachel and I couldn't disagree more. 

* A note about honey:  I eat honey.  It is technically an animal product, meaning I wouldn't eat it as a vegan; however, as a discerning vegan, I only reject foods that I have a reason to reject.  I eat honey because, unlike other animal products, I don't know any reason not to eat it.**

** If you don't eat honey, let me know why!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Recreating Chipotle

Simon's mom and brother were visiting this weekend for his brother's birthday.  We had a bunch of people over to our apartment for dinner (there were 10 of us in all--a new record!) on Saturday night to celebrate. We provided the main dish and dessert, while our guests provided an amazing spread of appetizers, drinks, and a side dish (corn on the cob!). 

For the main dish, we decided to recreate the vegetarian offerings at Chipotle Mexican Grill.  Feeding 10 people is easy as pie for a restaurant like Chipotle, right?  Here's what we had:
  • Whole wheat tortillas for burritos/tacos
  • Cilantro-lime brown rice (we prepared the rice and then mixed in chopped cilantro and lime juice)
  • Black beans (drained, rinsed, and heated)
  • Peppers and onions (sautéed in olive oil for about 20 minutes until very tender)
  • Corn (toasted in a pan)
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole (we used store-bought, but here's my recipe)
  • Lettuce
  • Shredded cheese, for those who wanted it
We made chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting for dessert.  Everyone needs some cake on their birthday. 

It was a great night, and I'm pretty sure we were all just as stuffed as we would have been had we actually dined at Chipotle. 

Tofu Tacos with Cabbage Slaw

Last week we had an unexpected visit from one of Simon's friends from home.  He wasn't too familiar with vegan food, so what did we make?  Tofu, of course!  Everyone loves tofu, right? 

Decked out tofu tacos
Okay, I'll admit that tofu often gets a bad rap as the poster child for gross vegan food.  When cooked well, however, tofu can be a great part of any meal.  I'm still not crazy about tofu "steaks" (slabs) after being vegan for almost 5 years, but that's probably just because I have yet to master them.  So, in the meantime, here's a recipe for some tasty tofu tacos. 

Tofu Tacos with Cabbage Slaw
  • 8 cups shredded cabbage (or pre-shredded cole slaw mix, without the dressing)
  • 1 large bunch radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 large bunch scallions, sliced
  • 2 + 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • salt and pepper, to taste 
  • 2 - 14 ounce packages refrigerated extra-firm tofu, pressed and cut into 3/4" cubes
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • whole wheat tortillas
  • your favorite salsa and any other taco toppings you'd like

First, prepare the slaw.  Toss the cabbage/cole slaw mix, radishes, cilantro, scallions, 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime zest, and lime juice in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Next, prepare the tofu.  First, toss together the tofu, taco seasoning, and 2 tablespoon olive oil in a bowl until coated.  Then heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  When the pan is hot, add the tofu, ensuring that each cube of tofu touches the bottom of the pan; if your pan is too small, cook the tofu in two batches.  Cook the tofu, turning the pieces after several minutes on each side, until most sides have browned.  Add more olive oil if needed while cooking.

Fill the tortillas with the tofu, slaw, salsa, and any other taco seasonings that strike your fancy.  Serves 6-8 people.

These tofu tacos take standard tacos to the next level.  The slaw is filled with fresh ingredients that brighten things up, and the tofu is so much lighter and healthier than ground beef.  Actually, Simon and his friend compared the taste of the tofu to that of eggs, saying it reminded them of a breakfast burrito.
All of the produce in this dish is really worth it.  You could make your own taco seasoning mix, if you prefer, but I like the convenience of pre-made mix. 
 Ease of Preparation:    
Tofu tacos probably take about the same amount of time as beef (or any other kind of meat) tacos.  Same taco process, different main ingredient.
Non-vegan friendliness:    
Simon's friend claimed to like the tacos and went back for seconds--always a good sign, given that he had never had tofu before!  That said, Simon, Rachel, and our guest added a bit of light sour cream and shredded cheese to their tacos to make them even more non-vegan friendly

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vegetable Ribollita

Last night we made Vegetable Ribollita for dinner.  What's that, you ask?  I didn't know before making it, either.  According to ever-helpful Wikipedia, ribollita is "a hearty potage made with bread and vegetables."  Wikipedia continues to explain that ribollita--a Tuscan soup dish--dates back to the Middle Ages, when "servants gathered up food-soaked bread trenchers from feudal lords' banquets and boiled them for their own dinners."  After reading such an enticing description, how could I not try this out?

Our hearty potage!

Vegetable Ribollita
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2.5 cups diced onion
  • 3/4 cup sliced celery 
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 3/4 diced carrot 
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium head of cabbage, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 - 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 - 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth 
  • 2 cups water (or two more cups vegetable broth)
  • 4 cups cubed sourdough bread (about 1/2 loaf)
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves

First, heat the olive oil and garlic in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onions, celery, zucchini, carrots, and rosemary, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the vegetables become soft and begin to brown, or about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, tomatoes, basil, and marjoram, and season again with salt and pepper. Cook until cabbage is just tender, or another 10 minutes. Then stir in the beans, vegetable broth, and water.  Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Next, stir in the bread and spinach, increase increase the heat to medium, and cook until the soup thickens, about 10 minutes more. Finally, taste the soup and season with salt and pepper one last time before serving.

Taste:        or     
Wikipedia's description is dead-on when it calls this soup "hearty."  The flavor is simple and subtle without being bland, and each bite highlights a different soup component.  I also really like the fact that this soup has something different going on in it: bread cubes.  However, Simon wasn't as pro-ribollita as Rachel and I were.  He felt that the bread was unpleasantly soggy and he didn't like that the texture was somewhere between a soup and a stew.   
There are a lot of fresh ingredients involved in this soup, but they are all very easy to find in any grocery store.  The great thing about this recipe is that it's not critical that your bread be incredibly fresh.  If your bread is a little old, just toast it before using. 
 Ease of Preparation:    
These vegetables require a fair amount of chopping to prepare.  As always, it will make your life much easier if you chop everything before starting the recipe. 
Non-Vegan friendliness:    
This is a really filling soup and I would feel comfortable serving again as a one-pot meal.  The dish doesn't present much of a wow-factor, but it's a solid dinner.  We also dipped some leftover bread in the soup, and Simon and Rachel melted cheese onto their bread in the toaster oven before dunking.